Strolling up Rehov Hahavatzelet in downtown Jerusalem, you'd be forgiven for missing a piece of history now chronicled on a modest tablet on the street's wall. To the average, unassuming passerby, Rehov Hahavatzelet Street is unexceptional. But for those who remember that terrifying night in February 1948 when the headquarters of The Palestine Post (later to become The Jerusalem Post) was hit by a car bomb, this street will never be forgotten.
The tablet displays the Post's front page a day after the State of Israel was declared and a photograph of the Post building in flames, together with a picture of founding editor Gershon Agron in his office.
It was designed and put up by the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites this year as part of its Temuna Be'even (Picture in Stone) project to mark significant historical sites across Jerusalem.
The initiative began more than two years ago, and each tablet costs $4,000 to produce. Devorah Avidan, coordinator of the project, says she wanted to highlight the modern history of Jerusalem: "The Post story especially impressed me because it had to do with the man who would later become mayor of Jerusalem, Gershon Agron."
At 10:45 p.m. on February 1, 1948, a five-ton British army truck drove up Rehov Hasolel (now Hahavatzelet) and parked outside the press room.
The assistant editor at the time, Ted Lurie, noticed the vehicle but thought nothing of it. Moments later, a sudden blast smashed windows and doors within a one-mile radius and, according to a report in the newspaper, a "dull red flash" reached the top of the Post building, as well as two adjacent blocks.
The building also contained the Jerusalem Press, daily newspapers Al Hamishmar and Hamashkif, the United Press, the Palestine Telegraphic Agency and a number of other offices.
The flames quickly spread to both sides of the street, which became impassable. People on the upper floors were faced with blazing staircases and were forced to leap from balconies or clamber down drainpipes to safety. One balcony collapsed and hung from one end - which was utilized as a ladder for those desperately scrambling to get out.
When the British police arrived in two trucks, a number of officers formed a human chain to rescue the stranded.
There were several reported acts of bravery that night - notably John Donovan, an NBC Jerusalem correspondent who rescued an injured man from the building's press when it was thick with smoke. The foreign correspondent of the New York Herald-Tribune, Fitzhugh Turner, traversed a flaming staircase in search of victims.
Fires raged until dawn, and the Hadassah clinic, just a few meters away, was so overstretched that two armored buses transported the overflow to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus.
All together, 40 people were wounded, some of them seriously, and four people died from their injuries - including three staffers: Haim Farber, Nathan Rabinowitz and Moshe Weinberg, as well as a neighbor, Deborah Daniel.
Even before the bombing, staff members were on high alert, Marlin (Moshe) Levin, then a 26-year-old rewrite man, later recalled. They had been anonymously warned, and Levin had even answered one of the anonymous phone calls. But the team made light of the threats. After all, he thought, it isn't uncommon for newspapers to have enemies.
Despite the bomb destroying its offices, the paper miraculously managed to produce a reduced, two-page edition the following morning (although it was a few hours late), printed at the nearby Lipshitz Press.
The Atara CafÃ© on Rehov Ben-Yehuda had been kept open all night by owners Ruth and Heinz Gruenspan to enable the journalists to write their stories.
Just four days later, on February 6, the Post returned to its usual edition and operated in borrowed office space.
Commentators immediately assumed the British were behind the car bomb because the vehicle was unmistakably British.
Hebrew University professor Alon Kadish asserted that the claims of British Army involvement primarily came from the Irgun underground. But, he said, that allegation was never substantiated.
Abd al-Kader al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist leader who had founded the so-called "Organization for Holy Struggle" in the Jerusalem area, later claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.
Husseini was a cousin of the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Mohammed Amin al-Husseini (and father of the late Palestinian leader in Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini).
Historian Dr. Uri Milstein reported that the bomb had been prepared by Fawzi el-Kutub, known as "the engineer."
Kutub studied demolitions in Nazi Germany at the end of the 1930s and was later put in a concentration camp for refusing to follow orders during an SS commando course. However, his release was secured by the mufti, who had close ties to Hitler.
Two British deserters were also reportedly involved. Cpl. Peter Mersden and Capt. Eddie Brown, who claimed his brother had been killed by the Irgun, brought the army truck to Beit Hanina, where Kutub loaded it with TNT.
The target of the car bomb remains a matter of dispute. Milstein posited that it may have been the Himmelfarb Hotel across the street from the Post, where the "Palmahniks" were staying. However, it could also have been the Zion Cinema, located at the corner of Rehov Ben-Yehuda and Jaffa Road.
One of the Arabs involved in the operation, Abu Khalil Janho, reported this to assistant editor Lurie when the two met after the Six Day War. Janho, who drove the truck, said he arrived at the cinema too late on February 1 - after the audience had dispersed. So he searched for "a building that was still awake" - and found The Palestine Post headquarters.
When the Post appeared the next day, its front-page columnist, Roy Elston, writing under the pseudonym David Courtney, proclaimed: "The truth is louder than TNT and burns brighter than the flames of arson."
Jerusalem Post staff and archives contributed to this report.
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